Press Conference by H.E. Mr Abdulla Shahid President of The United Nations General Assembly
14 December 2021
Transcript of press conference held on 14 December 2021
The President of the GA speaks about hope, vaccines and more please read on
PGA Shahid: A very good morning to all of you.
It is a pleasure to be with you today.
Welcome to those of you here in-person and those of you online.
I was last in this briefing room on 1st October. I have since then, so many things that have happened, and I hope to update you on.
I have spoken with some of you in the hallways, and at the UN Correspondents Association gala. As I have told you - both individually and at the gala - your work is essential; you tell the world what the United Nations is doing – or not doing.
Continue keeping my spokesperson and me on our toes. And for me that includes literally. I could always use the extra inches in height.
In all seriousness, my dear friends, know that I will always stand up for your right to report what is accurate and unbiased.
Before I take your questions, allow me to outline a bit of what has happened during these past few months:
You know I have promised a Presidency of Hope, built on five ‘rays of hope’.
On the first two rays: recovering from the pandemic and rebuilding sustainably, let me be very clear: our only respite from COVID-19 is to successfully ensure vaccine access for everyone, everywhere. No one is safe until everyone is safe.
I have been advocating this point since the start of the session and I have recently escalated this effort.
At the moment, I am working on a New Year’s “resolution” on vaccines. My hope is to get all 193 Member States on board by 13 January, to coincide with the high-level event on vaccine equity here in New York. I sincerely hope you will help promote and cover this event, as this issue affects all of us.
Our goal is to ensure equitable access, and subsequent delivery of vaccines to everyone, everywhere, at the earliest. I want to see renewed political commitment and meaningful engagement to ensure universal vaccination.
I also promised to respond to the needs of the planet.
On 26 October, I held a thematic debate on delivering climate action for people, planet, and prosperity. The event was about showcasing solutions. About highlighting the fact that humanity has the skills, the technologies, the resources to combat climate change – we simply are not applying them adequately, efficiently or at scale.
I took the messages from that event with me to Glasgow, to COP26.
Frankly, COP26 did not meet everyone’s expectations, but it did continue to push us in the right direction. As part of the Glasgow Climate Pact, the 1.5°C target is alive, even if it is on life support. That is a reason to be optimistic.
A personal highlight in Glasgow was meeting with women scientists and listening to their stories of achievements and challenges.
This brings me to my ray of hope on human rights.
I am a lifelong supporter of gender equality. My cabinet is gender balanced. I have promised to only participate on panels that are gender balanced, and I take every opportunity to meet with women and girls, be that heads of state, or women scientists or civil society or school children. I want to listen to and learn about their experiences. I am an ally and advocate for gender equality, I want to hear directly from women and girls what it is that will be most useful for them.
I also believe it is imperative that we involve young people in what we do, and I am very proud of my Fellowship for HOPE, that was launched only weeks ago, and the successful candidates for which were just recently announced.
Through this fellowship, eight young diplomats will join my office starting in January. They are coming from Antigua and Barbuda, Bhutan, Grenada, Guinea, Lao PDR, Nauru, Uganda, and Zimbabwe, 5 women and 3 men. They will be attached to my Office, working with my teams, and also take seminars and workshops organized by UNITAR.
I know they will contribute to the success of the Presidency of Hope. And more importantly, as a small islander who has seen and experienced the struggles of so many countries in keeping up with the rest of the world on the diplomatic stage, I know they will walk away with knowledge and skills to support their nations. As true multilateralists.
I would like to see this program continue in future General Assembly sessions and we are putting in place the systems, procedures and architecture to help facilitate that.
In terms of revitalizing the United Nations, I am continuing to support the IGN process, as well as revitalization of the General Assembly. I am also supporting Member States as they continue to deliberate on implementation of Our Common Agenda.
In November, I had the pleasure of hosting 150 plus civil society representatives in the GA Hall – the first such engagement since the pandemic and I am glad that the UN Headquarters will be reopen to civil society organizations starting in January 2022.
Throughout the session, I have maintained and built close ties with the President of ECOSOC and have coordination meetings regularly with the Secretary-General and President of the Security Council.
Looking ahead, and related to this, on 11 January, I will be holding a briefing to present my priorities for the resumed part to all member states, to be followed shortly thereafter by Secretary-General’s report on the organization, as well as the joint statement with the President of ECOSOC.
In terms of connecting with Membership, I am pleased also to have continued the process of my predecessors hosting morning dialogues. This session it is done under the name ‘Holhuashi dialogues’, which is a Maldivian term. On the islands, we have this structure where the Maldivian community would feel free to gather, and discuss anything under the sun or moon, depending on the time you meet. And there you can listen, you can lie down, you can take part in a discussion or simply take a nap. We had five so far, with 45 Ambassadors in attendance. And I’m glad that none of the Ambassadors took a nap.
All of this is of course in addition to the work within the General Assembly Hall.
I convened the 51st plenary meeting last Friday, 10 December. We have already had high-level meetings on Durban Declaration and Program of Action and on trafficking of persons. We have many more to come.
I expect that all the reports of the Main Committees, with the exception of the Fifth, will conclude this week. I am working closely with the Chair of the Fifth Committee to end on time, on the recess date of 23 December.
Since we last spoke, I have traveled. I went to Glasgow and China to bring the message of hope and strengthen the engagement of the United Nations.
My attention now is very much on the new year, on vaccine equity, on welcoming the new Fellows to our team, on initiatives around tourism, and around debt, which we are leading on, and on ensuring that we champion women and girls, and a sustainable recovery at every turn.
I think that I have spoken too much even now. It seems that I have a lot to do. Let me stop here and I would like to hear from you, and hear your questions. Thank you.
QUESTION AND ANSWER
Spokesperson: Thank you, Sir. The first question will go to the President of the UN Correspondents Association, Valeria Robecco.
ANSA: Thank you Paulina, thank you President. Valeria Robecco from ANSA news wire. Let me thank you on behalf of UNCA for this press conference and wishing you all the best for 2022. My question is within your priorities and the priorities of the UN for the new year, which dossier, which topics do you think you can get the first results. What are the top priorities for you and for the UN? Thank you so much.
PGA Shahid: My top priority, Valerie, is going to be on vaccine. That is why I am convening this high-level meeting on 13 January. That is why I want to make my New Year resolution on vaccine. I want Member States, all the Member States to join me on this New Year resolution. One might say, why am I doing this? In my life, last several decades, I’ve had many New Year resolutions, but this time I’m choosing a more modest one – to vaccinate the world. I want everyone to join me.
I firmly believe that we, the international community, has the capacity to do this. And it is so clear now that unless we can vaccinate the world, there is no way out of this. You see different types of variants coming out, and this is going to continue. So we need collectively to get together and get this political unity to come out. I’m hoping that on January 13th, we’ll be able to do it. Thank you, Valerie.
CCTV: Hi, Mr. President. This is Denzhi Xu for Chinese Television. I have two questions. The first question, we heard a lot about vaccinations this morning. And we know there is a UN objective to vaccinate 40% of the population by the end of this year and 70% by the middle of 2022, and its already the end of the year. So how’s the process going? And you talk about vaccine equity. Do you think that’s the biggest challenge so far we’re facing when we’re talking about the UN objective. And the second question is, we know that last week, the Secretary-General confirmed that he received the invitation for the Beijing Olympic Games from the IOC. Have you received the invitation? And recently, there are some people talking about diplomatic boycott of the Olympic games. What’s your thought? Thank you.
PGA Shahid: Vaccine equity. If you ask anyone, we do not have vaccine equity. Yes, the target was to vaccinate 40% by the end of this year, 70% by mid of next year. Have we reached the targets? No. When you look at countries in Africa where you have an average vaccination rate of maximum, 5 or 6%. Then we are unable to say with confidence that we are anywhere near to equity. So for us, for the 193 Member States at the United Nations, we should have this goal. One goal – to vaccinate the world. Because unless we can vaccinate the world, economy recover is not coming. Social, educational, normalcy returning to normalcy is not going to happen. Any degree of certainty to the way of life that we have had in the past is not going to happen. Yes, we can talk about the new normal and all those things. But where will a new variant take us? And the new normal will be pushed again further and further into the unknown territories. This we cannot afford, and that is why we need to get together for the effort, a united effort.
On the invitation by the IOC. Yes, I have received an invitation. I will be making a decision very soon.
AFP: Philippe Rater, Agence France-Presse. I have two questions, if I may. When do you expect the next meeting of the Credentials Committee? Is it in one year? And my second question, can you give us a little update on the negotiation on the budget and the scale of contributions? Do you expect a big change in this scale?
PGA Shahid: On the Credentials Committee, Philippe, we have had the Committee convene, submit a report to the General Assembly, and the General Assembly has adopted it. And on the next scheduled meeting, it will be decided by the chair of the Credentials Committee and I would have to ask the Credentials Committee when they expect to meet again. With that, I will have to come back to you.
On the budget, I have been involved with the process of budget from the beginning of the session. I have addressed the Committee. I have had regular meetings with the chair of the committee, Ambassador Mher Margaryan (Armenia). The Ambassador of the Fifth Committee keeps me updated. I also had meetings with the chair of the ACABQ. The target is to try to get the budget process completed by 23 December, so that we can go to recess by Christmas, as Member States would prefer. I know that last year the budget went over, almost into the New Year. That’s not something that helps the United Nations at all, so every efforts is being currently made to make sure that we complete this in time.
You’re right that we have two tasks with the Budget Committee, the Fifth Committee, this time. One is the regular budget, the other is the scale of assessment for countries. I will not be able to comment on the assessment as of yet because the committee has not briefed me.
Al Quds Alarabi: Abdelhamid Sayem from the Arabic Daily, Al Quds Alarabi. I would like to commend you on this message of hope you are sending to people around the world. I want to ask you how this message would resonate with people who still don’t enjoy their right to self-determination, and they’ve been going through oppression. I want to give you three examples, that the people want to see hope coming from the UN. The people of Kashmir in India, the people of Palestine, and the people of Western Sahara. All of these people are classified to have the right to self-determination according to UN Resolution, UN GA resolution 1514 of 1960, if you recall this important resolution of decolonization, granting self-determination to people under foreign rules and colonial powers. So do you have a message to those people who are still waiting to see some hope coming from the UN? Thank you.
PGA Shahid: Thank you, Abdelhamid. Yes, the Presidency of Hope is about giving hope to everyone around the world. That it is possible to have a better tomorrow. That collectively we have the capacity, we have the means, to promise a better tomorrow for future generations. That it is in our hands to make sure that our children, and their children, will have the confidence in multilateralism. That a peaceful settlement of disputes is the way forward through negotiations is the peaceful manner in which all issues can be settled. The Decolonization Committee, the Fourth Committee report was adopted by the General Assembly last week. I presided over that, the Decolonization Fourth Committee report. I think the United Nations has kept itself abreast of all these issues. But as we know from 1945 to now, 76 years, there is this process ongoing. The good thing is that the Decolonization Committee submits this report and most of the decolonization agenda, the self-determination agenda in the Fourth Committee is adopted by consensus. The Committee, as well as the General Assembly, so I think there is great room for growth.
Lenka White, Mainichi Shimbun: My question is on masks. Since everyone at the UN is supposed to be vaccinated. Do you think we could be not wearing masks anymore? Thank you.
PGA Shahid: Number one, I would love to make a recommendation of it, but unfortunately, I am simply the President of the General Assembly with no health background. I think that I should leave it to the health officials within the United Nations and the CDC, and such people who have better knowledge of public health issues. It would be very, very unwise of me to go into such things that number one, I don’t know. Number two, I’m not supposed to make a decision on such things. I abide on the recommendations and rules of professionals. We should all abide by these recommendations and we should try to put this terrible, terrible pandemic behind us.
PassBlue: Thanks very much. Dulcie Leimbach from PassBlue. I was just wondering what your thoughts were on the fact that the Security Council resolution on climate change was vetoed yesterday. And do you think the Security Council should drop the veto?
PGA Shahid: The records of the United Nations show that the first time the debate was held at the United Nations, it was in 2008 initiated by the UK under Foreign Secretary Beckett. I as Foreign Minister addressed the Security Council. That was 2008 and now it is 2021. Obviously, once again, we are able to see that it is an issue that we have not been able to come together. There is considerable decisiveness on the issue and therefore, on such an important issue as climate change, I think more needs to be done to bring all partners on the same platform, on the same page. So I hope that there will be consultations, will continue, dialogue will continue. So that all countries will be able to come to the same page.
Al Quds Alarabi: Can you give us your opinion of the situation in Afghanistan and how can this country be brought back to the international community? And address the chronic problems that it’s facing?
PGA Shahid: I understand the OIC is going to have a meeting in Islamabad this December on the humanitarian assistance that the country requires. And the United Nations have been engaged with humanitarian assistance, too, in Afghanistan. The Secretary-General convened a pledging conference, and we will continue to be engaged. And the manner in which the international community continues to be part of this issue is highly impressive. And we should do everything possible to assist the people of Afghanistan to overcome these crises.
Spokesperson: I don’t see any additional question in the room or online. Sir, I commend you. It is very difficult to answer all the questions in this room, but you have done so.
PGA Shahid: Thank you, thank you very much for taking an interest in the United Nations, in the General Assembly. And my appeal to you once again is, let us put an extra effort into promoting vaccine equity. Join me in my New Year resolution – vaccinating the world. Join me on January 13th high-level meeting on vaccines. I have every confidence that together, we will be able to do it. And that’s where my optimism comes from. This is why I believe in the Presidency of Hope. Thank you very much. Thank you, my friends.